THE COUNTRY OF TEMPLES, formerly known as Burma, has a population of around 55 million people and it is rapidly emerging from more than 50 years of military dictatorship, blossoming into as worthy a stop as its popular neighbors. It is one of Southeast Asia’s largest nations. There are 135 different ethnic groups living in Myanmar which makes it one of the world’s most diverse countries, with a rich history and panoply of cultural and religious traditions. The Republic of the Union of Myanmar is a geographically diverse country, boasting fertile tropical deltas in the south and a rugged landscape in the Himalayan foothills of the north. The country is situated along the Bay of Bengal, and shares borders with Bangladesh, China, India, Laos and Thailand. Approximately 70% of Myanmar’s people live in the countryside, and most rural families make their living from farming. More than 80% of Myanmar population follows Theravada Buddhism. Monks can eat like civilians, but not killing and eating after 12 noon. Early in the morning, each group of clergy in yellow or brown coat walks through the streets to beg for food. In the afternoon, the nuns in pink coats also go in bustling group. NAY PYI TAW is the capital of MYANMAR. THIS IS A COUNTRY WITH A BEAUTIFUL AND VERY OLD HISTORY.
WHAT TO DO IN MYANMAR
Myanmar has thousands of Buddhist temples, pristine beaches, many different ethnic groups, lots of history and cultural diversity. In Myanmar you can visit the temples of YANGON, observe the fishermen of INLE LAKE, enter the CAVES OF PINDAYA, watch the sunset at a temple in BAGAN and marvel at the hundreds of pagodas and stupas. If you want more information, contact us..
WE TRAVELED TO MYANMAR AT THE END OF OCTOBER.
LET’S GET TO KNOW IT…
The commercial capital of Myanmar, Yangon or Ragoon, is a mix of golden pagodas, colonial architecture and history. As the country moves into a democracy, massive changes are under way. Yangon was the British colonial capital until the independence of Burma in 1948, and was the independent capital of the country until 2005. It has the main port of the country.
DAY 1 – In late October, we flew from Luang Prabang to Yangon by Bangkok Airways. When we arrived we were transferred by a guide and a driver to the good and well located hotel where we stayed. We made all flights and tours, adapted to and by us, through a travel company, with branches in many other cities of the country. That is the best way to visit Myanmar.
WHAT TO DO IN YANGON
Yangon houses some of the country’s oldest, most famous and most highly revered temples, pagodas and Buddha images. But, besides, it has beautiful parks and excellent restaurants. If you want more information, contact us.
YANGON MAP – http://www.mappery.com/map-of/Yangon-Map
DAY 2 – The next day a driver and Amy, an English speaking private tour guide, met us at the hotel to take us to visit the most important temples and pagodas of Yangon. We visited:
The BOTATAUNG PAGODA, on the banks of the Yangon River in downtown, is one of Yangon’s most highly revered temples. Its most original feature is the dazzling zig-zag corridor, gilded from floor to ceiling that snakes its way around the hollow interior of the 40m high golden zedi (stupa). This maze has glass showcases containing many of the ancient relics and artifacts, including small silver-and-gold Buddha images, which were sealed inside the earlier stupa. And the most important: there is a sacred hair relic of the Buddha stored in a case with gold and gems. AMAZING!
The Botataung Pagoda was named after the thousand military leaders who escorted first hair relics of the Buddha brought from India over two thousand years ago. The meaning of Bo is “leader” and tahtaung is “a thousand”. It was built some 2,500 years ago by the Mon people. In the Second World War the pagoda was destroyed during an airforce bombing mission aimed at the nearby docks. Rebuilding started in 1948 following the original design. We stayed forty minutes visiting this pagoda. If you want more information, contact us.
BE AWARE – HTI is the name of the finial ornament that tops almost all pagodas in Myanmar. Hti is also a Burmese language word meaning umbrella.
The SULE PAGODA, known in Burmese as the Kyaik Athok Zedi, occupies the center of the city and it is an important space in contemporary Burmese politics, ideology and geography. According to the legend, the pagoda was built during the lifetime of the Gautama Buddha, about 2,500 years ago. It has been renovated and enlarged several times. Unusual in its design is its octagonal shape, which continues all the way up to the spire. The pagoda is topped with a hti, a multi-tiered ornamental element shaped as an umbrella. A steady flow of Burmese devotees make merit and bring offerings. This pagoda is surrounded by busy streets, a market and colonial era buildings like the Supreme court building and Yangon city hall.
We walked around to visit the COLONIAL BUILDINGS in city center, such as the former High Court, the former Inland Water Transport building, the Yangon city hall, the former Secretariat buildings and the Strand Hotel are excellent examples of Yangon’s past. The MAHA BANDOOLA GARDEN houses the Independence Monument (Burmese independence from the British in 1948) and it is popular with Tai-Chi practitioners. This park offers pleasant strolling and views of surrounding heritage buildings. If you want more information, contact us.
The KANDAWGYI LAKE is an artificial lake, built during colonial times by the British as a reservoir. It is located in KANDAWGYI PARK that is one of Yangon’s most pleasant areas, a park full of trees and home to the impressive KARAWEIK HALL, a replica of a classic-style royal barge located on the eastern side of the lake. Inside the Karaweik Hall are the reception halls, conference rooms, buffet restaurants and theaters. There are plenty of lakeside cafes, good places for a sunset drink.
The MAHA WIZAYA PAGODA is a structure on top of a small hill. The pagoda was completed in 1980 and is a mix of traditional and modern style elements. A rather unique feature of this Pagoda is its main stupa in the center of the building. Unlike the stupa of most Burmese temples, this stupa is hollow and open to visitors. In the center of the room is a shrine for the Buddhist relics. The domed ceiling over the relic shrine is painted in a light blue color and mainly contains depictions of various animals. Among the very colorful murals in the central dome are many depictions of the Buddha. If you want more information, contact us.
The CHAUKHTATKYI PAGODA houses the impressive 65-meters-long and 16-meters-high Chauk Htat Gyi Buddha image that is wearing a golden robe. The right arm of the Buddha is supporting the back of the head. The Reclining Buddha image is decorated with very expressive colors, white face, red lips, blue eye shadow, golden robe and red finger nails. The soles of the feet contain 108 segments in red and gold colors. The statue’s face is topped by a crown encrusted with diamonds and other precious stones. Close to the Buddha’s feet is the small shrine to Ma Thay, a holy man who has the power to stop rain and grant sailors a safe journey. Buddhist people pay their respect to the Reclining Buddha by burning incense sticks and offering flowers. Around the Chauk Htat Gyi Buddha image is a number of shrines. Around the pagoda are several monasteries. In the ASHAY TAWYA MONASTERY hundreds of monks study the teachings of the Buddha.
The Buddha image is housed in a large iron pavilion in NGAR HTAT GYI PAGODA. The walkway to the temple is adorned with murals, including depictions of Buddhist Hell. Seated on a pedestal with the back towards an ornately carved wooden screen there is the very large white Nga Htat Gyi image in Royal regalia wearing a golden robe. The image, which is also known as the “FIVE-STORY BUDDHA”, stands nearly 14 meters high. One of the pavilion’s walls contains a painting of the Buddha with a long line of followers dressed in red robes. A large bell hanging down from the pavilion’s ceiling is held by a Naga snake, a mythological animal believed to protect Buddhism. If you want more information, contact us.
SHWEDAGON PAGODA, also known as the GOLDEN PAGODA, is one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites! The massive 99-meters-high gold plated pagoda (zedi) is adorned with 27 tons of gold leaf, along with thousands of diamonds and other gems. A seven spired hti, an ornament shaped as an umbrella with golden bells attached to it is placed at the top of the pagoda. This main stupa enshrines sacred relics of the Gautama Buddha as well as the three previous Buddhas. It is also the temple’s most impressive structure. It is visible at its hilltop location from much of Yangon city. The stupa is surrounded by 64 small stupas. Its core is solid and not open to the public.
Historical evidence suggests the pagoda was built by the Mon around the 6th century. Since then the Pagoda has been enlarged and renovated many times, and numerous smaller stupas and other structures have been added. There are four entrances to the complex, all of which except the Eastern one have either an escalator or an elevator. All are guarded by enormous Chinthes, Burmese mythological lions with a white body and golden colored head. Burmese people pray to the shrine belonging to their day of birth by burning candles, offering flowers and pouring water over the image. The large temple complex contains many other beautiful and interesting structures. We stayed one hour visiting this pagoda. This is a WONDERFUL PLACE! If you want more information, contact us.
DAY 3 – The next day, very early in the morning, we flew to HEHO. A private air-conditioned car with a driver and an English speaking guide met us at the airport to take us to visit the PINDAYA CAVE, which is located about a ninety-minute drive from Heho Airport, over a very scenic road in the hills.
PINDAYA CAVES is located in the Shan state near the village of Pindaya. A few steps up from the car park is an elevator leading to the caves entrance. Since the elevators walls are glass, we had a GREAT VIEW of Pindaya town and the lake on the way up. Instead of the elevator, it is also possible to walk up the final part of the stairs. As the cave is a sacred place, we had to remove shoes and socks at the entrance. The Pindaya cave is an important pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists. It is set in a hill that contains three caves, only one of which is open to the public. This cave that is about 150 meters long contains thousands of Buddha images in various styles and from different eras from the early KONBAUNG DYNASTY (second half of the 18th century) to present day.
Every small corner and nook of the cave is cramped with Buddha images up to the ceiling. Between the images there are also a number of small pagodas as well as stalagmites and stalactites. During the course of several centuries thousands of Buddha images have been put inside the cave. Many statues bear the name of the person who donated it. The number of images is constantly growing since people are still adding more, by now there about 8,000. The Buddha images, in different styles, represent the various eras in which they were made. Many are gold plated; others are made from teak wood, marble, bronze or other material. Many are very small, some are life size. UNBELIEVABLE!! If you want more information, contact us.
After visiting the cave, we proceeded to see the huge BANYAN TREES. They are centuries old. The trees also create the perfect atmosphere for a famous mile-long pagoda festival that is held at the caves in March.
We went to PINDAYA that is a little town with the PONE TALOKE LAKE in the middle and many shady banyan trees everywhere. We had lunch at GREEN TEA RESTAURANT. It is an open-air dining room overlooking Pone Taloke Lake. The Burmese food was good, the staff excellent, the lakeside location superb and it had WIFI!
After lunch, we visited, in the center of Pindaya, a traditional cottage industry of umbrella – the PAPER UMBRELLA COTTAGE INDUSTRY. It is a small family workshop that produces parasols and fans, called Shan paper. We could see the Shan Paper production, which is a process of manufacturing umbrellas by hands only. We watched the whole process, starting from mulberry bark paper all the way to the final products. Bamboo is used to make the rods for the umbrellas and the fans. It was a VERY INTERESTING visit. If you want more information, contact us.
After this visit, it took us almost 2 hours to get to the hotel where we stayed for three nights. The INLE PRINCESS RESORT is located in front of the Inle Lake. The tropical garden contains a diverse range of local and south-east Asian horticulture. It has a nice bar and a fine open-air restaurant overlooking the lake and sunset. The 60m²-room were we stayed had a private deck facing the lake, filled with Lotus flower, and from where we could see the sunset. MARVELOUS!
INLE LAKE is famous for its floating villages, gardens and markets and the unique way of life of the local Intha people, with their functioning communities based entirely on the water. The wooden houses are built high on stilts and fishermen steer their one-man boats with a unique rowing style. The lake is surrounded by the famous “BLUE MOUNTAINS” of the Shan Plateau. There are nearly 20 villages and many restaurants around the lake. Along with fishing, traditional handicrafts are an important part of the local economy. The population consists predominantly of Intha, with a mix of other Shan, Taungyo, Pa-O (Taungthu), Danu, Kayah, Danaw and Bamar ethnicities. Most are devout Buddhists. And, as with all of Myanmar, religion plays a massive part in local life, and numerous pagodas and monasteries can be found on the lake and its shores. Although the lake is not large, it contains a number of endemic species. Over twenty species of snails and nine species of fish are found nowhere else in the world. It hosts approximately 20,000 brown and black head migratory seagulls in November. In addition to fishing, locals grow vegetables and fruit in large gardens that float on the surface of the lake. If you want more information, contact us.
DAY 4 – The next day, Mr. THAN NAING, an excellent English speaking guide, came in a private long-tail boat to pick us up from the hotel harbor to get to know the lake and its peculiarities.
Most transportation on the lake is traditionally by small boats, or by somewhat larger boats fitted with ‘long-tail’ motors that are necessary because of the usual shallowness of the lake. A typical BOAT TOUR OF INLE LAKE consists of a boat cruise around the lake, passing from village to village, with stops at villages with cottage industries, including cheroot making factory, lotus silk weaving, blacksmiths, boat building, goldsmith and silversmith, lacquered making; a lakeside market, one or two pagodas, the floating gardens and the ruins of In Dein.
BE AWARE – As soon as one starts the trip, some “fishermen” will come across on their boats with their fishing baskets, but ask your boatman to continue as these guys are not fishermen at all. There will be plenty of opportunities to see genuine fishermen throughout the day at different parts of the lake. Once you have snapped a few shots you will be expected to make a donation.
Local fishermen are known to practice a distinctive ROWING STYLE, which involves standing at the stern in one leg and wrapping the other leg around the oar. This unique style evolved for the reason that the lake is covered by reeds and floating plants making it difficult to see above them while sitting. By standing, the rower has a view beyond the reeds. Using their legs instead of their hands to row, they can see submerged obstacles and find the clear route. Rowing in this way also frees the hands and allows them to manipulate fishing nets, which can be quite bulky and heavy when catching large fish. However, the rowing style with the leg is only practiced by men. The women follow the usual style, using the oar with their hands, sitting cross-legged at the stern. IT IS FANTASTIC!! If you want more information, contact us.
INTHA PEOPLE, the sons of the lake, are members of a Tibeto-Burman ethnic group living around Inle Lake. They speak an archaic dialect of Burmese and are believed to have come from the Dawei area. They often live on Inle Lake and support themselves through the tending of vegetable farms on floating gardens. Also, the Intha are known for their LEG-ROWING TECHNIQUES. There are about 70,000 living in four cities bordering the lake, in numerous small villages along the lake’s shores, and on the lake itself. Most of them are devout Buddhists and live in simple houses of wood and woven bamboo on stilts.
The native people IN-THARS grow vegetables on floating islands. Those FLOATING GARDEN beds are formed by extensive manual labor. The farmers gather up lake-bottom weeds from the deeper parts of the lake, bring them back in boats and make them into floating beds in their garden areas, anchored by bamboo poles. These gardens rise and fall with changes in the water level, and so are resistant to flooding. The constant availability of nutrient-laden water results in these gardens being incredibly fertile. These floating islands can be cut, dragged by boats and even be sold like a piece of land. The FLOATING GARDENS can be found mostly in KAYLAR, INCHAN and ZAYATGYI VILLAGES. ASTONISHING!
KAYLAR VILLAGE is located in the middle part of Inle Lake and it is famous for its floating gardens. The INTHA PEOPLE who live there have become masters of their aquatic surroundings. They live in homes built on stilts above the lake’s surface and do everything from gardening, to shopping, to worshipping on the lake. The villagers mainly live on fishing and farming. On the floating gardens, they mostly grow tomatoes and some of them grow peas, chilies and flowers. If you want more information, contact us.
The KAYAN PEOPLE are the sub-group of the Red Karen people and the Tibeto-Burma ethnic minority native in Myanmar. Due to the antagonism from the Burmese military regime (from the late 1980s to the early 1990s) the Kayan tribe ran away to Thailand. Anyhow, the Kayan people in Myanmar remains diverse, and the most notable group is the Kayan Lahwi. Meeting the Kayan LONG-NECK PEOPLE in Myanmar is the very exclusive experience to know the mystery and charm of the tradition of making the brass neck coils jewelry. The Kayan women – better known as longneck or giraffe women – who have the elongated necks covered with the heavy brass rings look attractive. Besides, they are very good at wood carving and weaving. The Kayan men are the major workers. They together live the simple, monotonous, and hard-working lifestyle in both Burma and Thailand (the long-neck people are separated from most of the modern Thailand). The neck of a Kayan woman seems longer as it’s covered by the heavy brass rings; besides, their shins and arms are also “decorated” with the similar rings. This is the long tradition: each time a woman adds a ring to her neck, she is fitted with the new brass neck coiling around. Some women even have up to 25 rings on the necks. Most people follow this tradition just to protect their heritage; thus, some girls can refuse the practice of neck lengthening or just wear one or two necklets as jewelry. If you want more information, contact us.
NAMPAN is an excellent example of a traditional Inle Lake village, with its wooden houses all built on stilts. In the village we found hand-made CHEROOT (traditional local cigar) factories and the oldest pagoda on the lake, the ALODAW PAUK PAGODA, a large gem-encrusted golden shrine.
We had lunch at INTHAR HERITAGE HOUSE that is a beautiful structure located in the middle of the lake and it was built from reclaimed wood. Downstairs is a cat sanctuary, where pampered Burmese felines lounge about lazily. The cats are the result of a two-year breeding program, an effort to reintroduce them to their native Myanmar. Upstairs from the cats is a re-creation of a traditional bedroom with impressive dark wooden period furniture. Then there’s the HOTEL AND CATERING SCHOOL, and the art gallery, which hosts quarterly exhibitions of local artists’ work. The INTHAR RESTAURANT serves Chinese dishes, with coffee, tea, shakes, and desserts and has a lovely and peaceful space. If you want more information, contact us.
GASTRONOMY – Inle cuisine is different from Shan cuisine, as it incorporates local natural produce. The most well-known Inle dish would be the HTAMIN JIN – a rice, tomato and potato or fish salad kneaded into round balls dressed and garnished with crisp fried onion in oil, tamarind sauce, coriander and spring onions often with garlic, Chinese chives roots (ju myit), fried whole dried chili, grilled dried fermented beancakes (pè bouk) and fried dried tofu (topu jauk kyaw) on the side.
The lotus plants germinate from the roots of the plants and are planted in water, then harvested. Additional stems are imported for the workshop’s production. Then, the LOTUS THREAD WEAVING PROCESS starts. The first fact we learned was that it requires 8,000 lotus stems to produce enough thread for a single scarf. These are the scarves worn by Buddhist monks in Myanmar. A single worker pulls the threads from the stems. These are spun into thread, which is then washed in a special detergent. The looms are warped, and the woof is wound on bobbins. The two designs are woven in lengths and then cut from the loom. The finished product is labeled and tagged for sale. The hand of the finished product is somewhat stiff, like linen, but with wear and washing, it becomes very soft and pliable. AMAZING!
INNPAW KHONE is a tidy village of teak stilt houses and famous for its weaving workshops. It is fascinating to appreciate the skill of the weavers as they produce ornate, multi-colored fabrics on looms made from bamboo poles lashed together with rope. The workshops in Inn Paw Khone produce some fine shawls, scarves and longyi in silk, cotton and threads drawn from the stems of lotus plants. If you want more information, contact us.
Myanmar is the BUDDHIST COUNTRY most religious in the world and has the highest proportion of monks and nuns, with somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of the population practicing Buddhism. Since as seven years old the boys of Myanmar train as NOVICE MONK. Growing up together in their ancient monasteries they form a brotherhood of close connections. They eat, pray, become educated, play and live together – for what will become decades as they form a new family that spans many generations.
The TRADITIONS of Buddhism are upheld very strongly in Myanmar. Monks pray throughout the day to honor the teachings of Buddha. Every Buddhist Burmese boy between the age of 7 and 13 is expected to enter the monastery as a novice monk for a period of a few weeks to several months. He has a choice to return to life outside the monastery at any time, or he can stay on as a monk, if he so chooses. Many families from poorer or more rural backgrounds take up the chance to send their son to be a monk as it also means a free education. The photos are of a boy being prepared to start as a novice monk.
PHAUNG DAW OO PAGODA is one of the holiest sites in Shan State, and is visited by Buddhist worshippers from all around Myanmar. The shrine itself is huge and features five ancient golden Buddhas, and next to it, there can be found a large golden barge, a replica of the one said to have been used by King Alaung Sithu to travel around the country. The Pagoda festival takes place in October and features the passage of four revered Buddha images around the villages of Inle Lake on the barge, taking 18 days to complete their journey. There are also rowing competitions between the villages, using the renowned local leg rowing style. If you want more information, contact us.
After visiting the lake, we returned to the hotel, where we had dinner.
DAY 5 – The next day, very early in the morning, our excellent guide Mr. THAN NAING came in a private long tail boat to pick us up from the hotel harbor to visit Mine Thauk 5 day Market and the Indein Village.
The FIVE DAY ROTATING MARKET around Inle Lake offers a good opportunity to meet many different local tribes. These markets are called “5 Day Markets” because the hill people rotate between 5 different locations over a 5 day period. There is an annual chart that informs where the market will be, so the people Shan, Intha and Pa-O go to this place to sell their produce. The market is held every morning except during the full-moon, dark-moon days and holidays. They normally come by boat. Five day Market can be held at Ywama Village, Phaung Daw U Pagoda, Indein, Mine thauk, Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery. However, the real meaning of this special market is based on the former history. Shan state had many Shan princes. Therefore, the 5-day-market would allow all Shan princes to collect taxes rather than just one. Depending on which area the market took place, one or some of Shan princes who ruled the area would gather taxes. Today, although there are no longer Shan princes, the 5-day-market system still prevails, creating a unique cultural point for tourism.
We visited the MINE THAUK MARKET (or Maing Thauk) that is a large and bustling market where we could find a real local atmosphere with a variety of produce from the lake. Located on the eastern shore of Inle Lake, half of Maing Thauk village is on the lake and half is on land, with the two parts linked by a long wooden bridge.
We found an incredible assortment of vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants, scallions, peppers, beans, garlic, cheroots and also fish, flowers, fruits and so on. There were also people selling lacquerware, Buddha statues, Shan bags and longyis that are a sheet of cloth approximately 2 meters long and 80 centimeters wide widely worn in Burma, and many other things. IT WAS SUPER INTERESTING! If you want more information, contact us.
From the market, we had a one-hour boat ride down through a long and narrow canal where we watched the farmers cultivate their produce, and we arrived in Indein, which is located on the western shores of Inle Lake.
INDEIN (that means shallow lake) is famous for its crumbling and atmospheric groups of ancient pagodas, some of which are now being restored. This small village is also famous for its ‘five day’ rotating market. We visited NYAUNG OAK, located immediately behind the village, with its carvings of mythical creatures. It is overgrown with wild vines and has hundreds of elaborate carvings depicting elephants, peacocks, devas (female deities) and more. From Nyaung Ohak, we did a short climb to visit a second group of pagodas named SHWE INN THEIN PAYA that are many hundreds of ancient stupas erected very close together and partly covered by vegetation. From this place we had a magnificent view over the lake. If you want more information, contact us.
After this visit we came back to hotel to get our luggage and to be taken to Heho Airport to fly to Nyaung U Airport, Bagan. When we arrived we were transferred by a guide and a driver to THARABAR GATE HOTEL that is located near Tharabar Gate, in Old Bagan.
Between the 9th and 13th centuries, Bagan (Pagan) was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, once a tiny settlement that became one of Southeast Asia’s greatest empires. The 11th through mid-13th centuries were the height of the Kingdom of Pagan’s prosperity, and it was during those 250 years that the then 10,000 stupas, temples, and pagodas were built. Today, just 2,000 remain, but their expanse is staggering. The stupas dot the sides of the long road that runs through Bagan. Larger temples are clustered across from Tharabar (Tharbha) Gate, the only surviving section of Bagan’s city wall.The temples, pagodas, and stupas are located at Bagan Archaeological Zone.
Some are very large and have been renovated, while others are tiny and stand in disrepair among rambling grasses and brambles. The expanse of the ruins is staggering; from the side of a long, dusty dirt road they pop up, completely abandoned. There are three distinct sections of Bagan: Nyaung-U: in the north east, arguably the busiest – it’s where most backpackers stay. Old Bagan: is in the middle and is where the majority of pagodas are located. New Bagan; down south, during 1990 the government forcibly relocated the village from Old Bagan. The Irrawaddy River (also known as the Ayeyarwady River) flows through the city of Bagan. If you want more information, contact us.
DAY 6 – The next day a driver and ZIN LIN HTIKE, an excellent English speaking guide, met us at the hotel to take us to visit the most important temples and pagodas of Bagan. We visited:
ANANDA PAGODA or Ananda Phaya is one of Bagan’s best known and most beautiful temples. This single storey structure temple was one of the first great temples to be built in Bagan (1090 – 1105), it is well preserved and it is located near the Tharabar gate. The architectural style shows Mon and North Indian influence. The Ananda is an elegant, symmetrical structure with the layout of a Greek cross. The temple’s most distinctive feature is the gilded top called sikhara, which contains five niches on all sides placed over each other, each niche containing a Buddha image.
In the center of the Ananda Pagoda is a square room where four magnificent standing Buddha gilded images represent the four previous Buddhas that have reached nirvana, namely Kassapa Buddha (South), Kakusandha Buddha (North), Konagamana Buddha (East) and Gautama Buddha (West). A corridor runs around the central room, the walls of which contain 3 rows of niches that enshrine Buddha images in different poses. About 80 large sandstone reliefs show scenes from the life of the Gautama Buddha some 2,500 years ago. FANTASTIC! If you want more information, contact us.
SHWEZIGON PAGODA or Shwezigon Phaya is one of the oldest and most impressive monuments of Bagan. It was built by KING ANAWRAHTA who founded the Bagan Kingdom in 1044. After a monk from the Thaton Kingdom had converted the King to Theravada Buddhism the campaign of massive temple building began on the plains of Bagan. King Anawrahta built the pagoda to enshrine several Buddha relics, including a copy of the sacred tooth relic of Kandy in Sri Lanka. Construction started around 1059,and the pagoda was completed at the end of the 11th century during the reign of King Kyanzittha.
The most noticeable is the huge gold plated pagoda glimmering in the sun. Several shrines and temple buildings have been added to the complex since construction of the stupa. As the pagoda enshrines a number of sacred Buddhist relics, it is an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists. The gilded bell shaped stupa sits on a square base. At the base of the pagoda sits a large golden lion at each of its corners. VERY INTERESTING!
HTILOMINLO TEMPLE or Htilominlo Guphaya is a large majestic structure towering and was contructed in 1218 by KING HTILOMINLO who was also known as Zeya Theinkha and Nadaungmyar. Its design is similar to that of the Sulamani. The Htilominlo is a brick structure, which was originally plastered with white stucco, some of which is still in place. The intricately carved stucco contains depictions of ogresses and mythological animals like Makara sea creatures. The top of the Htilominlo temple comprises of a sikhara, an ornamental tower originating from Northern India. The walls from the entrances leading to the inner sanctuary contain arched recesses in which small Buddha images are enshrined. If you want more information, contact us.
DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE is the largest temple on the plains of Bagan. The enormous structure that was never completed consists of a massive square base topped by six receding terraces. It was built by KING NARATHU (1167-70), who was also known as Kalagya Min, the ‘king killed by Indians’. Narathu became King of Bagan after murdering his father and his brother, who was next in line to become King. He was probably worried about bad karma and build this massive temple to gain merit and to compensate for the murders. The King was later murdered himself. This Pagoda was never fully completed.
The brick work of the Dhammayangyi was done with great precision. There are four entrances each containing a seated Buddha image on a pedestal, the main entrance being the Eastern one. The Western sanctum contains images of the Gautama Buddha and the future Maitreya Buddha, side by side. The sikhara, a tower-like structure originating from North India that was once on top of the Dhammayangyi has collapsed. If you want more information, contact us.
SULAMANI GUPHAYA TEMPLE is a large, very elegant multi storey structure from the late Bagan period (1183). The temple was built during the reign of KING NARAPATISITHU, which was a very prosperous time in Bagan. The Sulamani is a two storey structure with a square layout. The top of the Sulamani comprises of a sikhara, a tower structure originating from North India. Its base and terraces contain beautiful glazed terracotta plaques with depictions of Jataka tales, the stories about the previous lives of the Buddha. The ground floor contains Buddha images on each of its four sides. The corridor surrounding the lower cube contains frescoes and murals from various eras. They depict scenes from the life of the Buddha as well as various mythological animals like Naga snakes and Makara sea creatures. WONDROUS! If you want more information, contact us.
BE AWARE – Unfortunately, the Sulamani Guphaya Temple was severely damaged by the 2016 earthquake, and entrance inside the temple was blocked.
After visiting those temples, we ride a ROYAL HORSE CART to pass by other pagodas. Traveling by a royal horse cart is a unique and interesting way to explore the temples of Bagan.
SHWESANDAW PAGODA or Ganesh pagoda is one of the tallest pagodas in Bagan, an imposing structure visible from far away rising from the plains of Bagan with its height of 100 meters. It was built in 1057 by KING ANAWRAHTA, founder of the Bagan Kingdom. Anawrahta wanted to further Buddhism in his empire. For this purpose, he requested Manuha, King of the Mon Kingdom of Thaton, to be given a copy of the Tripitaka, the Buddhist teachings. In 1057, after Manuha’s refusal, Anawrahta invaded Thaton. Upon his return after the successful conquest, he built the Shwesandaw pagoda to enshrine hair relics of the Buddha, which he had brought back from Thaton. It is a white painted symmetrical structure consisting of a bell shaped stupa set on a base of five square receding terraces. The corners of the pagoda’s five terraces were adorned with statues of Ganesha, the Hindu God with the elephant head, in Burma known as Maha Several Hindu deities like Ganesha were worshipped in Bagan before the arrival of Buddhism.
We went up to the fourth floor of the pagoda to watch the sunset. The view from this place is ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC! This is one of the most well-known spots for watching the sunset and sunrise. From there, we enjoyed a sunset over Bagan. If you want more information, contact us.
DAY 7 – The day after, a driver and our excellent guide, ZIN LIN HTIKE met us at the hotel to take us to visit other important pagodas and monasteries of Bagan. We visited:
NAT TAUNG KYAUNG MONASTERY or MYOE DAUNG MONASTERY is a wooden monastery built in the 18th century. It is best known by its numerous, detailed and beautiful wood carvings. Unlike the old brick, stone and stucco stupas, the monasteries, as this one, were generally made of wood. Although called a monastery, it is a complex composed of two monasteries, numerous pyathats – multi-tiered spire roofs, pavilions, rest houses, and ancillary buildings. In the center of the compound are four standing Buddhas that are almost 10 meters in height and made of solid teak; they are representative of the four Buddhas that have attained nirvana. The Buddha Images are Kassapa, Kakusanda, Konagamana and Gotama.
The decoration and most of its elements, like the rosettes and the roofs with beautiful wooden statues, are from the pre-colonial Kon-baung period (1752-1885). If on one side the temples and stupas in Bagan were sites of public veneration and worship, on the other side, the monasteries were places of residence for monks who had little or no income and were expected to accept their given conditions. Nowadays few monks and novices still live in Nat Taung Kyaung, which also functions as a school for the younger monks. THIS VISIT WAS VERY INTERESTING! If you want more information, contact us.
THARABAR GATE is the main gate of the east city walls and the only structure left of the old city built by King Pyinbya. It was built in 849 A.D during the 9th century. The western and northern part of the city wall was washed away by the river. There were originally twelve gates during that time. Tharabar is derived from the Pali term “Sarabhanga” meaning “shielded against arrows”. On the left side of the gate is the brother “Lord of the Great Mountain” and on the right side is the sister “Golden face”.
THAT BYIN NYU TEMPLE is one of the highest monuments of Bagan. After the single storey pagodas built during the early period like the Shwezigon pagoda, it is one of the first two storey structures built in Bagan. After the Thatbyinnyu (1144), Bagan architectural style evolved further with the Sulamani (1183), the Gawdawpalin (early 13th C) and the Htilominlo temple (1211) that are all multi storey temples. The square base of the Thatbyinnyu temple is about 58 meters long on each side. The corridors consecrate a large number of seated Buddha images seated on pedestals in arches recessed against the walls. MARVELOUS!
The construction of GAWDAW PALIN TEMPLE started during the reign of KING NARAPATISITHU, which was a very prosperous time in the history of the Bagan Empire. The temple was completed during the reign of his successor, King Htilominlo in the early 13th century. It is a large two storey temple built in the style of the late Bagan period. The structure is set on a low platform. The lower cube is surrounded by a corridor that contains a seated Buddha image on a pedestal on each of the four sides. Each side of the pagoda has an entrance with porticoes protruding out from the structure. Inside the temple there are Buddha images seated on pedestals as well as a number of Nat spirit statues. The main entry to the complex on the East end is guarded by two large white lion statues. If you want more information, contact us.
The name Myinkaba itself is connected with the first historical king, Anawrahta (AD1044-1077) who defeated and killed his half-brother King Sokkate in single combat on horseback near the bank of the Myinkaba stream which still flows through the village. The name Myinkaba means “Brought on the horse’s saddle” (Myin=horse, ka=saddle and ba or pa=brought). KING ANAWRAHTA was the founder of the first Myanmar kingdom and Kyanzittha was the one who consolidated the first union of Myanmar by cementing friendship with the Mons. The most notable features of the Myinkaba village are the huge stacks of bamboo one sees everywhere. Bamboo is the raw material for the plaited matting which serves as the walls of houses all over Myanmar. The village is also famous for its traditional Mon-style lacquerware, the secret of whose manufacture has been passed from generations since King Manuha brought his artisans with him into exile here more than 900 years ago.
NANPAYA TEMPLE is a Hindu temple located just behind the Manuha Pagoda. Tradition says that it was built by PRINCE NAGA THAMAN, King Manuha’s grand-nephew, in the late 11th C and used as the residence of the captive Mon King. The structure of the decorative brickworks reflects the fine architecture of Bagan. Flanking the sanctuary in the main building are four stone pillars on the sides of each of which are carved bas-relief figures of eight Brahmas and the triangular floral designs. The figures of the Brahma are holding lotus flowers in each hand. It has perforated stone windows to admit light into the building. The arch pediments over the windows and the carvings of the frieze are architectural motifs in stone.
MANUHA TEMPLE is one of the oldest temples of Bagan. It is named after KING MANUHA; King of a Mon Kingdom named Thaton located in lower Burma. Manuha built the temple in 1067, after having spent a decade in captivity in Bagan. The temple enshrines four large gold painted images of the Buddha, each contained within a separate room. The front of the temple consists of three rooms, each containing a seated image. The central image measuring 14 meters high is in the “Calling the Earth to witness” posture. It is flanked by two smaller images each 10 meters high. The back of the building consists of a single room that contains a 27,5-meter-long reclining Buddha image wearing a serene facial expression. The Manuha temple is an active place of worship for Burmese Buddhists. If you want more information, contact us.
After visiting those temples we went to hotel to get our luggage to go to Nyaung U Airport to fly to Yangon. From there we flew to DUBAI.
DAY 1 – Flew from Luang Prabang to Yangon
DAY 2 – Yangon
DAY 3 – Flew from Yangon to Heho and drive to Inle Lake
DAY 4 – Inle Lake
DAY 5 – Flew from Heho to Bagan
DAY 6 – Bagan
DAY 7 – Flew from Bagan to Dubai
SHAN-STYLE RICE – Also known as nga htamin (fish rice), Shan-style rice is seen as one of the very typical dishes in Burma. Shan is one of Burma’s main Buddhist ethnic groups and it is where many of the country’s best foods come from . Being the combination of rice that’s been cooked with turmeric, garlic oil and flakes of freshwater fish, the tasty Shan-style rice can both be a meal or a snack. Leek roots, raw garlic and deep-fried pork rinds are believed to be the best sides to go with Shan-style rice.
BURMESE CURRIES – There is a wide selection of meat to be tasted in Burmese curries: pork, beef, shrimp, mutton and even fish. They are cooked with many different spices and ingredients to yield a perfect balanced dish. Curries in Burma are more than a plate of rice topped with meat and sauce. Following the central element of curry is the seemingly never-ending succession of side dishes. Some rice, a small dish of fried vegetables, a tart salad, a small bowl of soup and a large tray of fresh vegetables and herbs to name just a few. Burmese curries – a tasty and fun experience.
SWEET SNACKS – Unlike many other sweet treats, Burmese snacks are not packed full of sugar. Instead, they generally get their flavors from natural and typical ingredients such as coconut, fruits or tapioca. Many of the snacks come in the forms of small pancakes, a serving of sweet sticky rice or little cakes.
TEA SHOP MEALS – You can find tea shops anywhere in Burma. Much more than just places to enjoy a cup of tea, they are where you can dig deep into the traditional Burmese cuisine with many typical dishes. Each tea shop serves different dishes that reflect the unique ethnicity of its area. Being served along with the tea usually are the deep-fried savory snacks, some baked breads or desserts.
DEEP FRIED FOOD – Deep frying is one of the most common ways of cooking in Burma. You can find anything from snacks, mains, dessert items being fried. Generally being deep-fried on its own or with just a thin layer of dough, the food is deliciously crunchy without being too rich and fat. BUTHI KYAW – battered and fried gourd pieces – is one of the most famous fried dishes in Burma and is loved by many foreigners.
TEA LEAF SALAD – Last but not least, the famous tea leaf salad. Burmese people take full advantage of tea leaves in their dishes, using them in main course and dessert items. Among these dishes, the tea leaf salad stands out with its beautiful balanced flavors. The ingredients include the bitter tea leaves, shredded cabbage, sliced tomatoes, nuts and peas, crunchy deep-fried beans, garlic oil, slices of chili and garlic. Healthy and deliciously balanced – this is a must-try dish in Burma.
MYANMAR – TRAVEL TIPS
VISA – You can get a pre-entry permission VISA for you to travel to, and seek entry, into Myanmar via Internet. A holder of a valid visa who is found suitable for entry into Myanmar will be issued an immigration pass to enter and remain in Myanmar. Possession of a valid Approval Visa alone does not guarantee entry into Myanmar. You must also meet the following entry requirements: Have a passport with at least 6 months validity, have sufficient funds for the period of stay in Myanmar, and have confirmed round-trip air ticket(s). The grant of an immigration pass to you will be determined by the Immigration officers at the point of entry. The period of stay granted is shown on the visit pass endorsement given on your passport and it is not tied to the validity of this visa.
CURRENCY IN MYANMAR – The Burmese Kyat is the currency of Myanmar (Burma). The currency code for Kyats is MMK, and the symbols K. KYAT – pronounced Chat. You can exchange money in banks at airport arrivals and they all have virtually identical exchange rates. Do note that you can exchange back your unused kyat back into dollars at Departures at a minimal (20 kyat) difference between buying and selling rate. Kyat is NOT an International convertible currency and it is most unlikely that they can be exchanged outside Myanmar. Many quality hotels, especially used by business and group tours, will accept Credit Cards, although some may charge a merchant fee. Make sure that you always HAVE ENOUGH US DOLLARS FOR YOUR DAILY activities and also to buy local currency. MAKE SURE THAT YOUR DOLLARS ARE CRISP AND IN NEW CONDITION OTHERWISE THEY WILL NOT CASH THEM. Exchange rates vary considerably, so shop around for the best rates before changing your Dollars. NEVER CHANGE MONEY IN THE STREET- ALWAYS USE A BANK OR OFFICIAL MONEY EXCHANGE SERVICE.
WHEN TO VISIT MYANMAR – The LOW SEASON – from May to September – The southwest monsoon starts mid-May and peaks from July to September. The dry zone between Mandalay and Pyay gets the least rain. Rain can make roads impassable in the more remote areas. The SHOULDER SEASON is October and November – March and April. From March to May, Yangon often reaches 40ºC. Areas around Bagan and Mandalay are hotter. It’s cooler in the hill towns of Shan State. The HIGH SEASON – from December to February – The rainy season is over and it’s not so hot.
POWER – The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
LANGUAGE – The Burmese language is the official language of Myanmar.
TIME – Myanmar Standard Time is 6 ½ hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time – GMT+6:30.